The late detective writer Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone is the off-again, on-again police chief of the small town of Paradise, Mass. New York, Chicago and L.A. put together don’t have as much crime as Paradise, but not to worry: It’s all taken care of by a four-person police department that still has time to write traffic tickets and work regular hours.
Every state in the union has detective writers that fill their books with local color and regional quirks of speech and action, but you don’t have any local detective fiction if you don’t have any local crime. In big cities they can rip the stories from the headlines. In Manhattan, anything less than a triple murder won’t even make the newspapers; even then, a celebrity or a politician has to be involved, no matter how distantly, before it will get any coverage. “Mayor’s Third Cousin, Twice Removed, Gets DUI!” But an uncomplicated, celebrity-less gangland killing? Nothing.
In small towns, it’s just the opposite. The brave sheriff has to keep the gangs from moving in in the first place. The world-weary veteran detective sends the mafia bosses scattering. The real mystery isn’t whodunnit, but why is it so easy to believe that small towns could have such huge crime waves.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life,” “Baby’s First Tattoo” and “Now in Paperback.” He can be reached email@example.com.